The Wadja Aboriginal Family Place

Article from 2022 Impact of Giving Annual Report

Nestled between the busy clinical spaces of the RCH, the Wadja Aboriginal Family Place, simply known as Wadja, offers a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and their families to have a break from wards and clinical areas.

Not only is it a place where families can come for a yarn and a cuppa, this dedicated service has been specifically designed to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people by providing culturally sensitive, responsive and timely services to patients and their families. This innovative model of care is made possible thanks to the generosity of philanthropy, including support from The Debbie Stach Memorial Fund, The Pratt Foundation and the community through the Good Friday Appeal.

Wadja was first established in 2009, following a pilot program funded by the RCH Foundation. The aim was to build on the pre-existing Aboriginal Hospital Liaison service and provide a dedicated case manager from admission through to discharge. As well, a general paediatric health clinic was created. Delivered by a multi-disciplinary team consisting of case managers, paediatricians, mental health clinicians and allied health clinicians, the clinic aims to address the complex medical and social needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

Since then, the service has grown exponentially, with the multi-disciplinary team, managed by Iman woman Selena White, supporting thousands of children and young people each year.

Since its inception, Selena has worked with the Wadja team to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and families attending the RCH culturally appropriate and equitable access to healthcare. As she describes it, Wadja is helping to provide the very best quality of care they can.

“Our role is to support the delivery of holistic wellbeing of our patients. Their health is just one part – we also look after the spiritual, physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of patients and their families,” said Selena.

“The service has grown a lot over the last 15 years. When Wadja first commenced, our team saw three patients in the first month. Now, in the last financial year, we had over 4,500 outpatient encounters throughout the hospital. We’ve also seen 454 patients in the clinic during this time, with an attendance rate of 84 per cent”.

Despite the challenges presented over the past two years, Wadja has continued to flourish. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wadja adapted the outpatient service model to telehealth, allowing them to maintain excellent care for patients, families and the Aboriginal community. The telehealth service was also met with a further increase in attendance due to the convenience, reduced travel needs, and cost.

Selena explains that Wadja is so important because of what it gives to patients and their families, who are often facing many barriers when it comes to receiving care including difficult childhood experiences, grief, loss, and effects from intergenerational trauma.

“A large majority of our patients are referrals from local Victorian Aboriginal organisations who support vulnerable Aboriginal children. We have patients who are actively accessing Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) in home support services, or who are in out of home care,” said Selena.

“We also have a significant number of patients who come from interstate. For them, coming to the RCH might be the first time they are leaving their community. More often than not, it is also the first time they’ve gotten on a plane or come to Melbourne.”

“Because of these things, the hospital can be an overwhelming place. So, we’re there with them every step of the way and often our case managers wear many hats. Not only are they a support person, they also ensure parents or guardians understand things like consent forms and what their child’s surgery involves,” she added.

The incredible impact of Wadja extends further than just its patients. Since 2009, the Wadja team has developed a significant reputation within the community, working closely with local Victorian Aboriginal organisations including the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) and VACCA to provide service delivery and referral pathways for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. They have also played an integral role within the hospital, building understanding, empathy, cultural knowledge and culturally safe care amongst RCH staff.

For the Wadja team, philanthropy has made a remarkable difference to the service it is able to provide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients across the hospital.

“Without the generosity of philanthropy, we would not be able to deliver the most comprehensive model of care to our Aboriginal patients, their families and our community,” said Selena.​